Chasing waterfalls: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon 

The highlight of my Portland trip was a visit to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Although the time I spent perusing books at Powell’s City of Books was a blast, I wanted to spend more time outdoors. The weather hasn’t been consistent and when the sun is out in Portland, you need to grab the opportunity to do something outside immediately.

On our third day in Portland, I woke up with the sun blazing (well, sort of, but Portlanders will take any sign of sunshine). Forest Park was the place I wanted to go, not only known for its hiking paths but the Pittock Mansion is in its vicinity. The front desk staff at our hotel told me Forest Park is not easily accessible by rail or streetcar. It took about 20 minutes by Uber to get to the mansion.

Pittock Mansion overlooks the city’s skyline with panoramic views of mountains, rivers, forests, and downtown Portland. It was built in 1914 for Henry and Georgiana Pittock, Oregon’s most influential couple. Henry was the owner and publisher of the city’s newspaper, The Oregonian, and went on to build an empire (real estate, banking, railroads, etc.) that transformed Portland from a muddy, isolated village into a booming, modern city.

I thought the views from the Pittock Mansion was spectacular, but the waterfalls and the drive to Columbia River Gorge took my breath away.  It makes me cry inside thinking I live in a city surrounded with huge malls and chained restaurants. No mountains, no ocean, not even hills. Before going to Portland, I had my goal set to visit Multnomah Falls, rain or shine. But I found out that there are no public transportations to get there and the best way was to rent a car. I wasn’t too keen on the  hassles of renting a car so I inquired about uber and tours. To uber it, it’ll cost $50 each way and to take a tour will cost about $65 to $98 per person. However,  we were fortunate that my son’s friend’s mom was willing to drive us!


Our first stop was at Horsetail Falls. I was in awe that the waterfall was flowing freely near the road. And there was a ton of water. When we hiked the Manoa Falls in Hawaii, there was hardly any water due to the drought. I suppose there’s no drought in Portland since it rains almost everyday for eight months!

Our next stop was Multnomah Falls, the most visited falls in the Columbia River Gorge. From the pictures, I already expected it was going to be a spectacular sight and I wasn’t disappointed.


I’m really glad we went to Portland. I know it’s not usually the place where most people choose to spend their spring break, but that’s what’s great about it (unlike those Mexican beaches flooded with tourists or to Florida’s theme parks where thousands of children screaming to have a photo with Mickey Mouse). Instead we had a vacation in a city where there weren’t a gazillion tourists around, not even at the touristy areas. We went to places where both locals and visitors went and had plenty of time to immerse ourselves in the culture of Portland. It was awesome!

Books, chicken wings, and ice cream: Portland, Day 2

I waited for the rain to subside, but it just kept pouring. I hate wasting time while on vacation so I abruptly woke up my son and told him to get ready. “But it’s still raining!” he said. “Yeah, so? I have the perfect place in mind!” I told him.

The disastrous start of our first day in Portland had worn us out that as soon as we got back to our hotel, we crawled into our beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up to (what I assumed) the sound of rain.  I peered outside and was disheartened to see it was really raining! Because we lucked out with  yesterday’s weather, I was hoping it’ll be the same today (yeah, wishful thinking). This time, you are raining on my parade, Portland! I was now posed with the challenge: what to do in Portland when it’s raining?

Texas is two hours ahead of Oregon. Much to my son’s annoyance, I was wide awake by 6am local time. This morning (and everyday for four days), I had breakfast in our hotel alone. One of the disadvantages of traveling with college-aged kids is they  would rather sleep in than have breakfast.

I waited for the rain to subside, but it just kept pouring. I hate wasting time while on vacation so I abruptly woke up my son and told him to get ready. “But it’s still raining!” he said. “Yeah, so? I have the perfect place in mind!” I told him.


Those who know me well know that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Sushi, tea, and books are among the things I really enjoy. And if given a choice–going to a mall or browsing books at a bookstore–I would always pick the latter. When my older son was still in high school (before he drove on his own), I would stay for hours at the bookstore before picking him up at school. But sadly, there’s been a decline for bricks-and-mortar bookstores and are now slowly being replaced by digital technology.

two of the items I bought at Powell’s

 


The flagship, Powell’s City of Books is listed as one of the must-visit places in Portland. It is claimed to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world! A map is provided to find your way around the bookstore! Cruising the aisles, I found the books I normally wouldn’t find in a regular bookstore. I told my son I’d move to Portland just to be near Powell’s. It’s that good!

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After a few hours of browsing, the stimulation from the books must have made us really hungry. Famous for their Southeast Asian specialties, Pok Pok, one of the most famous places to eat  in Portland, was what I had in mind.

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The food is out of this world and if you’re expecting normal dishes you’ usually find in Asian restaurants, you will be disappointed.

Deep fried wings marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings is their most ordered dish in the menu. If you’re thinking what’s so special about chicken wings, trust me, you haven’t had these chicken wings. After eating one of the most satisfying restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time, I couldn’t help but wonder why the restaurant was named Pok Pok. The server explained that it had something to do with chopping something on a wooden block (in Thai).  I shared with him what pokpok meant in my language (it’s slang for slut).. LOL!

The combination of spicy and salty got us craving for something sweet after. We were in luck because Salt and Straws was just down the street.


One of my son’s friends in college (who’s from Portland) told him this ice cream shop is a must-visit! The sea salt and caramel ice cream topped with caramel sauce and hazelnuts was absolutely divine, I went back to get more the next day!

Day 2 in Portland was a success! Spending hours at Powell’s was my idea of  heaven on earth!  Browsing through the aisles, finding books I wouldn’t normally find in other bookstores surely gave me bookgasm, a feeling I can’t fully describe or express in words whenever my hands touch a book! All I can say is it’s butterflies in my stomach. Did I already mention that I just experienced heaven on earth?
 

Don’t rain on my parade: Portland, Day 1

I’m one of those crazy people who absolutely adore the rain! The soft pitter patter of the rain is the most peaceful sound in the world. Watching each raindrop is genuinely one of my favorite entertainments. But when the rain stops, and the sun begins to show up, I always have this strange feeling of disorientated chaos, as if the sun had obliterated my zen. However, when you’re on vacation, it’s a totally different story. The rain becomes your nemesis, especially in a city where most of the activities are done outdoors

When it’s cloudy and rainy outside, everyone is usually complaining about how yucky the weather is. Not me. Because I’m one of those crazy people who absolutely adore the rain! To me, the soft pitter patter of the rain is the most peaceful sound in the world. And watching each raindrop is genuinely one of my favorite entertainments. It’s also the most perfect opportunity to curl up and read a book. (Or Netflix binge lol). But when the rain stops, and the sun begins to show up, I always have this strange feeling of disorientated chaos, as if the sun had obliterated my zen.

However, when you’re on vacation, it’s a totally different story. The rain becomes your nemesis, especially in a city where most of the activities are done outdoors. Perhaps Spring isn’t the best time to visit Portland, but I was thinking of the trees, the hiking, the mountains, the food, but not the weather.

Day 1

When my plane landed, I was relieved to see it wasn’t raining and that the sun was partially out. I was also excited to meet my older son at the airport. It’s been three months since I last saw him. But thanks to technology— FaceTime and text messaging—it made communication easier and less lonely without his presence at home.


It was his idea to go to the Pacific Northwest on his spring break. I suggested we’d visit Portland (instead of Seattle). I’ve only been on short overnight layovers in Portland when I was still a flight attendant thus I wasn’t able to explore much of the city.

From the airport, we took the Max (light rail service) to the city center and transferred to the Portland streetcar, which luckily had a stop in front of our hotel. We immediately went out after checking in, worried that the rain will show up soon. We had lunch at Bamboo Sushi, popular for their sustainable fish. Sadly, the hype was bigger than the food.


After lunch, we asked the hostess if there was a Max stop nearby that goes to Washington Park. People go to Washington Park to visit the zoo or the International Rose Garden, but I was more interested in the Japanese Garden. The hostess told us she’s never been to Washington Park. I was surprised to hear she’s never been, assuming all Portlanders were the outdoorsy type 😉

When we arrived at the park, we searched for the shuttle bus but didn’t see any. We decided to walk following the signs to the Japanese Garden. But after walking for 20 minutes (the road was not very pedestrian friendly), we had a feeling we were heading the wrong way. We turned around, back to where we started.



We went to the information desk and the person there told us that the free park shuttles were not in service until May!

Whaaat???

Epic travel fail #1: not doing your research! Oh wait, I did my research! But I didn’t read that the shuttles were not in service in early Spring! In fact, no mention at all about this on their website. (Wanna hear something awful? A few days later, we found out that the Japanese Garden had been closed for renovation and won’t reopen until a week after we leave Portland—another thing they conveniently failed to mention in the website? Gosh, even the man at the info center didn’t know it was closed or perhaps didn’t bother to inform us. Wow!).

I felt a complete failure and it was only our first day.

My son told me he was really exhausted. And that could only mean one thing: go back to the hotel. We haven’t even done anything yet. All we did was eat mediocre sushi! We hopped on the Max back to the city center and another mishap occurred—we got on the wrong train! We only realized our mistake when it took us to the end of the line.

Ughhhhhhhhhh…..

Epic travel fail #2: not paying attention to where you’re going! This time I was guilty. How on earth was I making so many mistakes! I’m a seasoned traveler goddammit—or so I thought! Determined not to give up so easily, I persuaded my son we should go to the Chinese garden. He wasn’t too thrilled (probably assuming it can’t be that good if it’s located right in Chinatown).


“It’s one of the top 10 things to do in Portland according to Time,” I said to convince him. He reluctantly agreed and we got off the Max at Chinatown. As we were walking looking for the garden’s location, it lead us to a row of beautiful cherry blossom trees along the Willamette river.


It reminded me of the time when we lived in Japan. For just a few weeks every Spring, Japan celebrates hanami by gathering and sitting under the trees, bringing food and drinks with them. Cherry blossoms symbolize spring and the hanami was for welcoming the new season.

“Imagine yourself in the 16th century China, standing in the courtyard of the home and garden of a wealthy family. The peaceful and soothing garden is their spiritual utopia, designed to escape the problems of everyday life,” according to the brochure’s description of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.


I can see why this garden is a spiritual utopia for anybody. If I had a garden this beautiful, I would be inspired to meditate daily.


From the earlier fiasco, I needed to de-stress and sought solace from the garden’s tranquility.


In spite of the location, with all the buzzing noise from cars and people, Lan Su Chinese Garden is a perfect place to get away yet you’re still within the city limits.

At this point, I would’ve been fine if we went back to the hotel after visiting the garden. The row of cherry blossoms trees and Lan Su Chinese Garden were the redemption I needed from a terrible start. But my son, looking at the map on his phone, told me Voodoo Doughnut was nearby.

The famous Voodoo Doughnut is located in a seedy area, but nothing to worry about, with the crowd and long lines, you’ll hardly feel unsafe. It’s crazy to be waiting in line just to get donuts. And heck, for that matter, I don’t even like donuts! But if it’s a must-thing to do in Portland, I needed to suck it up so we waited in line for at least 45 minutes. However, there’s plenty of entertainment while waiting. We were serenaded by a man playing the violin, a very animated homeless guy talking to himself, a midget asking for spare change, a homeless gal with a cat for attraction, and listening to conversations among tourists. Before you know it, you’re in the shop.


Known for their quirky donuts, we chose the Voodoo doll, which is by the way the shop’s icon. My son also wanted to try two other flavors (Tang and Bacon Maple).

I posted the picture above on my Facebook with the caption, “voodoo doll,” and my friend asked who I had in mind. I replied by saying she should know who. “Trump, I hope,” she said. No comment. 😊


So you’re probably wondering—was it good? Was it worth waiting in line for? It’s one of those things you can check off your list in your itinerary and if it wasn’t one of the must-things to see, do, or eat in Portland, I wouldn’t wait 45 minutes for it.

We dodged the rain all day, but tomorrow was going to be a different story.

The amazingly weird yet too cool Portland!

Another city with the “Keep It Weird” slogan: Portland, Oregon! After seeing a bearded man with a skirt, a beautiful homeless young lady with a cat, a midget hanging out by a voodoo doughnut shop asking for a spare change, and just about every person you meet has tattoos and pierced nose rings, this city is weird, but in a good, fun kind of weird. Of course there are more reasons to love Portland than just its crazy offbeat culture!


Another city with the “Keep it Weird” slogan is Portland, Oregon! When you see a man in tights, shorts over it, with leather jacket, a funky young, tattooed, homeless young lady with a cat, a midget asking everyone lined up at Voodoo Doughnuts for a spare change, and just about everyone you meet on the street has colored hair and nose rings, as if this city really needs such a reminder—Portland is awesomely weird.


But not everyone agrees. According to Alexander Barrett who wrote the book, This is Portland, Portland should stop calling itself weird because the word weird is not nice. Why not reinvent a slogan, “Keep Portland Portland!” I suppose the city is much too cool to be labeled as weird.


Too cool that it has more tattoo shops per capita (about 12 shops in 100,000 people). Too cool that Portland has a “shitload of beers, a shitload of bikes, and a shitload of beards”.

Speaking of beards, yes, I noticed most men here have beards and earring. But there’s gender equality when it comes to tattoos, colored hair, and nose rings.


But it being weird isn’t the only trait why people fall in love with this city.

They have cherry blossoms

They have beautiful gardens

And parks


They have the Pittock mansion on top of a hill

With an amazing view of the city

They have spectacular waterfalls


Like any great city in the world, Portland, too, has an amazing food scene.


Oh and did you hear Portland is the food truck capital of the world?

And also famous for its music culture!

This post is sounding like the one I wrote recently. Oh, yes, that’s Austin, the other weird city in America!

But unlike Austin, Portland is “beervana.” If you are a beer drinker, you’d think you died and went to beer heaven because the city is known for its cool and awesome microbreweries.

Beer is not only their crowning glory. They have the best sea salt caramel ice cream to die for that I had to go back to get more the next day. And I don’t even have a sweet tooth!

But Portland seems to have a sweet tooth because it has that quirky doughnut shop that people wait in line for.

What sets Portland apart from the rest of the cities in America is the amazing Powell’s City of Books. You’ll actually need a map to navigate your way around here. Book lovers like me will call this the bookstore of their dreams. I’m not joking when I say I’d move to Portland just for Powell’s!

Powell’s City of Books


But the best thing about Portland is their progressive values, welcoming people of all kinds. Most retailers have hung posters in their windows to proclaim their store as a safe space for all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all sexual orientation, and all genders.


Thank you, Portland!

Unfortunately, as amazing as the city sounds, the weather isn’t. It rains eight months out of the year here. And dodging the rain can be challenging. But it is still possible to get around and enjoy the city, you just have to be creative and resourceful of course! And since I’ve been doing personal challenges this year, rainy Portland became my personal challenge #4: how to do Portland in the rain. 

But you’ll need to wait for my next blog 🙂